Pho-Natics sample fabulous pho in Burien
The Seattle Pho-Natics is a lively, talkative group, but when the pho is served, you'll likely only hear the clicking of chopsticks and slurping of soup. Members are fans of pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, and meet monthly to sample and critique restaurants.
Their quest to find the best pho in Puget Sound recently found them at Burien's Pho La Vang restaurant, 217 S.W. 152nd St., on May 17.
"It's fun to get together and discuss something that we all have in common," says Sean Hoops, president of Pho-Natics.
Hoops and his coworker Tracy Wellington, vice-president of Pho-Natics, founded the club in 2009. Both are Harborview Medical Center nurses who bonded over years of shared, pho lunches.
"There have been times when I've eaten pho at least four times in one week!" laughs Hoops.
Their enthusiasm inspired others and a core group began joining them as they tried new restaurants. Christening themselves the Pho-Natics, they made t-shirts emblazoned with their slogan, "Di _n ph_!", Vietnamese for "Go eat pho!" and publicized themselves through Facebook. Membership is currently free with nearly 170 online supporters.
"I think part of the appeal of pho is the diversity of food," says Hoops. "I don't think most people realize how different it can be at different places. Plus, you can typically get a pretty good meal for under $10."
Hoops and Wellington research potential restaurants via the Internet. The Pho-Natics have hosted meetings at 11 restaurants ranging from Seattle to Mercer Island and most recently Burien.
As people poured through Pho La Vang's door, the Burien restaurant was soon full with hungry Pho-Natics. It was the group's biggest meeting yet with over 30 members, 10 of whom were first-time attendees.
Familiar faces greeted each other and questions flew between tables about which menu items looked most enticing.
"We don't want it to be too formal," says Wellington who circulates at meetings and welcomes new members.
People travel from as far as Issaquah and Federal Way and it has become a family event for some. The group's "Pho Prodigy", a 10-year-old boy, is accompanied by his dad and original member Neil Davidson brings his 70-year-old mother, Faye, whenever she is visiting from Kansas.
"I'm slowly but surely getting to know new people," says Bryan White.
White and Adam Kumm live in Des Moines and have attended eight Pho-Natics events. They appreciate that the group offers introductions to new establishments. They were previously unfamiliar with Pho La Vang, but now plan to return to the Burien eatery.
"I have friends who live in Seattle and when they visit our area (the south end), they're surprised by some of the great places here," says White.
Socializing aside, the Pho-Natics take their food seriously. After the meeting, members submit their reviews to Hoops or Wellington. They critique everything including the food, decor, cleanliness and service.
"We're pretty brutal critics," says Hoops.
Reviews are posted on the Pho-Natics Facebook page and Yelp. Their expertise has become so well respected that the Seattle Weekly's new food critic invited Hoops and Wellington to advise her through a dining tour of Seattle's premiere pho restaurants.
As the food begins arriving at Pho La Vang in Burien, notes are being compared, but the jury is still out.
"We'll see how the night ends," says Hoops.
Results will be posted the next morning, but the ravenous eating is a good sign.
As for the future of the club, Hoops and Wellington hope to continue expanding and discovering new "absolutely pho-abulous" restaurants - as Wellington comedically terms it.
"The sky is the limit," says Hoops.